Jan 25 2021

Models of Dominion

“We will not fight to save what we do not love.” –Barbara Brown Taylor

Throughout January I have been reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s new collection of sermons called Always a Guest.  Early on in this compilation there is a sermon called “The Dominion of Love.”  In this inspiring homily Barbara explores what God might mean in the Genesis 1:26 command for humans to “have dominion” over Creation.  She notes that for many years the predominant view was “despotism.”  Humans had the right to do with Creation whatever they chose.  In this view, everything was put here for human benefit and disposal.  Eventually many people of faith came to see this dominion to imply they are “stewards” of Creation or “divine servants” who have been entrusted with the care of the earth and all its inhabitants.  The idea of being stewards means the earth does not belong to you or I but is rather on loan to us.

Many people of faith have grown quite comfortable with the idea of humans maintaining the role of stewards of the earth.  Barbara, however, suggests there may be other models to consider, ones that bring us closer to the real meaning of dominion.  She says the idea of “stewards” is “awfully utilitarian” and claims that when we are stewards we “act from duty, not love, which may not be enough for this warming world of ours.”   An alternative model she presents for our consideration is that of “priest.’  A priest is someone who sees in the world “an altar laid with God’s good gifts, just waiting for someone to bless them and hold them up to heaven again.”  You and I have the privilege and honor of being “priests” when it comes to Creation.  This gives the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer a whole new meaning.

Next Barbara offers the model of “neighbor,” noting that Jesus taught us we are to love and care for our neighbor.  At this point in the sermon she raises a series of questions: “Do only two-legged ones qualify, or do my neighbors include the four-legged ones, the winged ones, the ones with fins and fur?  Does God’s compassion stop with human suffering, or does it extend to every creature in need of mercy, especially those with no voice of their own to cry out for help?”  It should be clear that we are to be caring neighbors not only to humans but to all God has made.

The next model Barbara suggests is that of “kin.” She points here to the interconnectedness of all of Creation as revealed in the Genesis 1 narrative.  There is, in fact, a commonality in all created things.  The web of life is undeniable.  This commonality should motivate us to be more considerate of the rest of Creation when it comes to having dominion.

The final model offered in this amazing sermon is that of “lovers.”  Barbara Brown Taylor says “We are made in the image of the First Lover, the divine one, who brought this whole shebang into being.  If it is true that we have been put here to live in that image, then the only dominion we can possibly exercise is the dominion of love—without condition, without distinction, without self-interest or secret devotion to any other dominion, including the one in which the value of all things is reduced to their price.”  In the end she concludes, “We are here because God made us, and if God made us, we live by love.  We are here to preside over the dominion of love in God’s name.”

It will likely be hard for a lot of us to get away from the use of the word  “stewards” but the models of  “priests,” “neighbors,” “kin,” and “lovers” should certainly be incorporated into the concept.  Like Barbara Brown Taylor, I think “lovers” is probably the best way to understand our role as those who have been given dominion over the earth.  God created the world in love.  God created us in love.  Now God expects us to serve and care for the world in love.  Anything short of love will not do.

–Chuck


Mar 24 2014

Loving All God’s Creatures

_DSC2406Today I had the privilege of speaking at the funeral of a member of my church.  The person who died, Ben Cline, was a very good man with a lot of wonderful traits.  One of the traits I spoke about may have come as a surprise to some.  Ben had a soft spot in his heart for stray animals.  Over the years he had taken in numerous cats and dogs and nursed them back to health.  His family told me about how he bottle-fed some and they recalled how he slept in the floor with one cat for two nights trying to help it get better.  I already had a lot of admiration for Ben for the whole time I knew him he was battling a serious disease and did so with much courage and dignity.  After hearing of the compassion he had for stray animals my admiration only grew greater.  That compassion says a lot about a person’s character.

St. Francis once said “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellowmen.”  Apparently St. Francis believed that how one looked at animals said a lot about that person.  I would agree with that.  So would the philosopher Immanuel Kant who said “He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men.  We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”  Not surprisingly, Ben believed strongly in showing respect to all people, not matter where they came from or how rich or poor they might be.  There was, in fact, a correlation between his compassion for animals and his fellowman.

_DSC2421I sometimes struggle with the picture the Bible presents concerning animals.  There are parts where animals almost appear worthless.  There are other parts where their value is shown and emphasized.  In the Creation story we read that when God made the various creatures He declared them “good.”  (Genesis 1:24–25)  Later when the earth is destroyed by flood God makes sure that Noah saves creatures from all species so that after the flood they, too, might repopulate the earth.  Later still, when God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses He not only ordered a day of rest for humans but for their animals as well. (Exodus 20:10)

There is a closer bond or connection between humans and animals than most people realize.  According to Genesis 2 we were both brought forth from the earth by God and in Genesis 1 we were both created on the same day.  Needless to say we share the same earth and are dependent on it for our survival.  There are also some who believe that God made animals to be our companions.  In Genesis 2:19 we read that God brought all the animals to Adam and “whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”  The very fact that the animals were named may well imply that a relationship was established between “man and beast.”

_CES0047Unfortunately, many have completely misunderstood God’s call for humans to “rule over” or “have dominion over” all creatures to mean they were to dominate them and treat them however they wish.  (Genesis 1:26) In his book, For Love of Animals, Charles Camosy says Jesus interpreted “dominion” not as domination but servanthood.  He adds, “we are called to be like Jesus and use our dominion to serve and protect the most vulnerable.  This includes vulnerable nonhuman animals.  With Christ as our guide, human dominion over creation must be about self-sacrificial love–not consumerist exploitation.”

In the end I do believe that animals deserve our compassion.  Proverbs 12:10 says “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.”  I am grateful for the example of Ben Cline in this area and I know that there are many others like him out there.  I just wish there were more.

–Chuck

(The top two images are Boomer and Taz, pets of my friends John and Christi Edwards.  The bottom image shows my dog, Sierra.)

 


Nov 24 2013

Leaving a Mark

_CES0115This afternoon I spent some time at Petroglyph National Monument near Albuquerque, New Mexico.  In this national park unit one can see hundreds of petroglyphs.  These etchings in stone come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes.  Each, however, was left behind by someone a very long time ago for one reason or another.  A few days ago I was at Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona and there, too, saw numerous petroglyphs and pictographs.  These etchings and drawings were, likewise, varied in size and shape and left behind by ancient Native Americans for one reason or another.

Basically from the beginning of humankind people have left evidence of their presence by carving or painting on stone.  Perhaps in some cases the reason was to tell a story.  In other instances it may have simply been the desire to be creative.  As humans we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and I believe that part of what that means is that we, too, are creative individuals.  It is likely that some of the etchings and paintings that have been left behind are religious in nature.  Their origin may have been expressions of worship. _CES8907Thinking about the petroglyphs and pictographs I’ve seen in the past week I have concluded that all of us leave a mark behind us.  It is inevitable.  The mark we leave behind may be intentional or accidental, but we will, in fact, leave a mark.  I would argue that we should by all means strive to be intentional about this and that the mark we leave behind ought to be a positive one rather than a negative one.

Do you know what kind of mark you want to leave behind?  I would hope that mine would include pointing others to recognize the goodness of God revealed in both Creation and the Scriptures.  I want my mark to be one that leaves this world better for my having lived here.  I hope that my photography will always be a reminder to people of the awesomeness of God’s Creation and that it will inspire people to take better care of the earth.  I hope that my life will somehow be a reflection of God’s love.

_CES9010If you haven’t given consideration to what kind of mark you want to leave behind I hope that you will.  Doing so may help you be more intentional with what you do with your life.  You will be remembered for something.  What will that something be?

–Chuck

(The images shown here were taken at Canyon de Chelly N.M. and Petroglyph N.M. the past few days.)